It's a tradition that hasn't failed in almost 10 years: at the start of every new year, the city's vice mayor rotates into the job of mayor. Which means Vice Mayor Chris Clark is set to replace John Inks as mayor after only one year on the council, making him the city's first openly gay mayor and probably the youngest.
"Being openly gay hasn't been a big deal at all," Clark said of his first year on the council. "That says a lot about our community. It's largely been a non-issue."
Clark is a vice president of technology at the Green Dot Corporation and just turned 30 in September. "As far as we know, I'm the youngest person ever elected to council, and will be the youngest mayor as well," he said.
According to tradition, council member and ice cream shop owner John McAlister would rotate into the vice mayor seat and be Mountain View's 2015 mayor. Both elected in 2012, McAlister and Clark are the only council members to not yet serve as mayor.
Big growth ahead in 2014
If selected, Clark would take the helm as job growth overwhelms the city's housing supply and as the city finishes three major precise plans that will guide building development on El Camino Real, in the San Antonio shopping center area and in Google's North Bayshore. The plans are a final refinement needed before implementing Mountain View's 2030 General Plan, which could allow the precise plans to zone for as many as 17,500 new jobs in North Bayshore, 5,500 new jobs in the Whisman area, plus thousands more elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile the general plan allows for up to 6,539 new homes in Mountain View until 2030, most of them apartments that would be built as the San Antonio and El Camino Real corridors redevelop.
Clark shied away from discussing the possibility of the precise plans worsening the city's jobs-housing imbalance, but said the "big three" precise plans would be his top priority, along with making sure the city's budget continued to recover "conservatively" from the recession.
In regard to the precise plans, Clark said, "We have three council members terming out next year (Margaret Abe-Koga, Jac Siegel and Ronit Bryant). The council will probably change fairly significantly. It's important (that) we wrap a lot of the things we started. A majority of the council was part of the general plan process."
Clark says he's brought a unique perspective to the job as someone who works in tech and rented an apartment for many years in the city before making a down payment on a house.
"I rented for a long time and made the leap to home ownership, which is really tough," he said. "A lot of people who have lived in Mountain View for a long time don't necessarily recognize how hard it is to make that down payment and make that leap."
"I feel like I certainly bring a different perspective to council and I think my colleagues appreciate it," Clark said, adding that "I think it's natural to be skeptical of much-younger folks serving in these types of capacities."
If selected by his colleagues on the City Council, Clark will run city council meetings, share the task of setting the council's agenda with the city manager and represent the city at various events and functions. It's usually a full-time job, and Clark already has a full-time job as a business executive. He won't be the first fully employed mayor, however. Laura Macias and Tom Means held down full-time jobs during their mayoral terms a few years ago.
"I don't think there's any doubt that being on council and having a full-time job is tough and being mayor takes it to a whole new level," Clark said. "I'm thankful to have a very flexible employer and boss. We've discussed the possibility of this happening and he's certainly on board with it. It's important that I prioritize this over a lot of other things. A lot of people are putting their trust in me. I intend to meet and exceed people's expectations. I certainly recognize it's going to be a challenge."
Clark says he intends to include McAlister in most of his duties, as Inks did for him. "In my first term, being vice mayor wasn't all that typical. It was really helpful for me" to learn the ropes of being mayor.
Like Inks, Clark said he wants to do "stakeholder outreach" to Mountain View's businesses and "make sure we are meeting their needs and we remain a city that's competitive for businesses as well as a great place for people to live."
While they both value the views of local businesses, Clark says he has "different philosophies" than Inks.
"To his credit, he thinks through issues and he applies his values of fiscal responsibility and a lot of Libertarian ideals, which I think are certainly valid," Clark said of Inks. "At the end of the day, I think we come to different conclusions." One of those conclusions is that workers on city projects should be paid union wages and another is that the city has a responsibility to subsidize affordable housing. Inks opposes both.
In regards to Inks' style of running meetings, Clark said, "I probably won't be quite as strict with the way the meetings are run."
"I think there are ways to emphasize what the process of the evening will be to residents the first time they come to a council meeting and they really want to be heard but don't know the most effective way," Clark said.